Johannesburg — Cape Town is home to the murder capital of South Africa - Nyanga - and two other townships in the area, Delft and Khayelitsha, make up the top 3. In the first 6 months of 2019, 2,000 people were killed in some parts of Cape Town, collectively known as Cape Flats, and up to 47 people murdered in stabbings and shooting in one weekend. Bishop Lavis, Mitchells Plain, Delft, Elsies River, Nyanga, Khayelitsha, Mfuleni, Philippi, Kraaifontein and Manenberg were identified as the most dangerous areas in Cape Town.
The South African National Defence Force was deployed - not without controversy - into these 10 worst gang-plagued neighbourhoods on the Cape Flats in June. Prior to the army's arrival, 14 people were murdered in Philippi during three different incidents in just one weekend. The effectiveness of the army's presence has been questioned by people living in the affected communities, as well as by academics who believe that the history of the area needs to be considered.
The army was originally deployed for 3 months but an extension has been granted.
allAfrica.com and Bush Radio, Africa's oldest community radio station project - in an effort to get some answers and discuss what the next steps should be, and how to build the peace that the affected communities want in Cape Town - hosted a panel discussion broadcast live (Listen here).
Chance Chagunda, Whitaker Peace Initiative program director for South Africa, Wilhemina van Dyk, community activist, Guy Lamb, director of the Safety and Violence Initiative and Zeenat Isaacs, Chairperson and Founder of S.M-ART (Supporting Mentorship through Art) and Albert Fritz, Western Cape Provincial Minister of Community Safety, participated in the panel discussion.
The programme kicked off with the voices of people on the street, who were asked how the violence on the Cape Flats has affected their lives:
"The crime is terrible, government must do something about it because we are not safe as women and our children are also not safe especially in Crossroads where I stay. Even the Urbers are not able to come that side because of high crime rates."
"Criminals broke in to my house and stole my clothes and blankets, I've been robbed four times and they took my phones on my way to the train station in Philippi."
"Right now I am scared to even go to the shops, we use to be scared at night but now we are even scared during day light. Its very unfortunate."
"I am always panicking while walking to get transport in the morning to work, I am not comfortable walking in my community so i prefer to stay indoors."
"Children are growing up in an environment that is no safe so it has to start at home, parents should take control of their households and their children."
"It has affected me to the point that I don't want to walk outside, I am always anxious of my surrounding and conscious of what might happen to me, basically its an emotional torment."
"It has become a part of our daily lives, the drugs are a huge problem. Government must do something, they must give jobs to the people staying in the corners because those people break in to our houses, they rob us and kill us just to go get their next fix."
According to police crime statistics, murder rose by 6.9% nationally between 2017 and 2018. The Western Cape was largely responsible with 12.6% increase in murders. Of the 3,729 murders recorded in the Western Cape, 808 were identified as gang-related.
While gangs are rife in the Western Cape, the greater part of Cape Town's violence is not gang-related. In the 2017/18 statistics by the South African Police Service only 22% murder cases were identified as gang-related. SAPS couldn't determine a motive for 38% of murder cases reviewed in the province, murders attributed to arguments, domestic violence and retaliation or revenge accounted for 23% of cases. In response, President Cyril Ramaphosa launched the government-led Anti-Gang Unit in November 2018. A month after the gang unit was deployed Police Minister Bheki Cele announced that over 200 gang strongholds had been searched and 119 arrests were made. Despite all these efforts violent deaths did not stop.
Fritz was unable to attend the panel discussion but was represented by his spokesperson Cayla Murray , who spoke on the state of the police force in the Western Cape - revealing the under-resourcing of the detective services and the lack of basic training of police officers.
"At present the Western Cape does not have enough detectives to investigate the spate of criminality and gangsterism in the province there is a shortage of 548 detectives in the Western cape and 142 post currently remains vacant.
"Ultimately detectives are responsible for gathering evidence and facts for criminal cases, their critical services include interviewing potential suspects, examination records and apprehending criminals, the quality of their work determines whether the case is solved or dropped. Unfortunately, not only are there resources shortages and lack of training among the detectives but detectives are also heavily burdened, " Murray said.
This assessment found that of the total detectors in the Western Cape, 48% had a caseload of over 200 per person. The report highlighted that out of the 2,785 detectives in the Western Cape, 91.7% have not received training in the specialised detective learning program, 88.2% have not been trained to investigate fraud, 57% of the detective commanders have not completed the requisite training and 45.8% did not complete the basic detective learning program.
Fritz described the statistics as "shocking".
SaVi director Guy Lamb says one of the key challenges to the peacebuilding process on the Cape Flats is police corruption, and how it relates to illegal firearms.
"In most conflict situations when a peace process starts, the first thing that happens is you get rid of the firearms. There's the realisations that your efforts in building peace can be really undermined if you can't reduce access particularly to illegal firearms. And I think that's been a key challenge in Cape Town that due to police corruption we saw more than 2,000 firearms going directly to gangs about 8 or 9 years ago. It made a major difference in terms of murders and violent crimes going up, and into gang conflict.
"We need to get peacebuilding initiatives moving, but a key priority for police needs to be to collect as many illegal firearms as possible."
When ordinary people from different communities were asked why they think South Africa has such high statistics on violent crime, most said it may be attributed to drug abuse, lack of education, unemployment, poverty leaving some with no other choice but to turn to crimes like stealing to try and survive. (Listen here)
"I strongly believe that there is still hope for our communities and the issue we are facing are because of lack of education and lack of employment. If we look at these issues and target them, I feel there will be a difference made" said Zeenat Isaacs, Chairperson and Founder @ S.M-ART (Supporting Mentorship through Art).
"What we found is that there is a huge impact made when we introduce those young people from impoverished communities to extramural activities that are done in private schools such as art. In the beginning a child will draw gang signs on a canvas but later on after a few workshops there is a huge difference. Why then is it that this is not Incorporated in to our school systems?" Isaacs asked.
"We are focusing on job creation, peacebuilding and on how to empower young people in the Cape Flats and give them resources to start businesses so that unemployment can be reduced which is linked to the course of violence. We are working with schools and communities in order to educate kids about the importance of peace from a very young age", Chance Chagunda who is a peacebuilding practitioner and Programme Manager of the Whitaker Peace & Development Initiative.
The Whitaker Peace and Development Initiative supports 45 Capetonians to educate 350 young people from communities across Cape Town to become social development ambassadors, through learning how to engage with residents to mediate conflicts and foster peace.
Chagunda said without peace there can never be development. He said trying to recruit the youth to become peace ambassadors hasn't been easy, some young people in the Cape Flats refused and didn't want to take part and when asked why a number of them said they knew the killers of their relatives or loved ones and wanted to revenge rather than join a peace initiative.
Wilhemina van Dyk, who is a community activist, said South Africa as a country has a tendency of neglecting psychological impact of violence then children become acquainted with violence from their own households and communities.
"Trauma has become part of our daily living and children from poor communities from the ages of 7 to 10 walk in groups identified as gangsters. Yes it is a SAPS issue but I think to a large extent we are neglecting the psychological impact of violence on people in general, children do not learn to become gangsters they grow up in to it," she says.
Panelists agreed that more peacebuilding initiatives are needed in affected communities to educate people and communities need to specifically define what violence is because a lot of people in those communities have normalised violence. They also agreed that for people who grew up in places like the Cape Flats, the deployment of the army will not reverse negative psychological effects of violence they have been exposed to for years.
AllAfrica's reporting on peacebuilding is supported by a grant from Carnegie Corporation of New York.